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NEW DELHI, India – As a woman in my twenties who grew up in India – a country where the abuse of women was described as the greatest human rights violation on earth – the 2011 SlutWalks were frankly confusing.
Every day in our lives, women like me were taught to go through a mental checklist to avoid rape. The list had become second nature, so deep, seamlessly internalized that the doorbell just had to ring, and my mother and I, who were hanging around our house, watching TV, or maybe having dinner, first picked up a scarf that we put on could throw us corpses before we opened the door. At my high school, where uniforms were required, girls were asked to kneel on the floor so that teachers could check that our skirts were long enough. If they didn't touch the ground, they were too short and a particularly frightening teacher tore open the hem of our skirts, the frayed edges marked us for the rest of the school day. There were a million ways to dress like a bitch when you were a girl (there was no such code for boys) – our white shirts could be "too transparent" if the cotton had become thin through frequent washing or if we were colored bras inside instead of white or skin-colored.
When I was 25 years old, I interviewed a group of young girls who lived in a slum in Govandi, Mumbai. what her checklist looked like. What did paranoia look like in a place where there were only thin corrugated sheets between the girls and their neighbors, grown men, amazed boys?
Fourteen-year-old Nafisa told me that she made sure she texted her friend Neelu before she left the house. Neelu had red chili powder with her wherever she went, in case she had to throw it in the eyes of a potential attacker. Annu made sure that her water bottle was always full, so that she had something heavy to hit a possible molester with. Pinki had stopped wearing glass bracelets at the age of 11 – because her mother told her that someone who grabbed her wrists would hurt and slow her down if she ran away from her assailants. Neena had stopped rubbing her hair because it had attracted too much attention. At 15, most of them avoided going outdoors unless absolutely necessary. They were usually accompanied by an older man from the family. Many of the older girls had small knives in their pockets, but were unsure if they could use them at the right time.
Some girls wearing hijabs said they didn't feel safer: "They want to find out what's underneath," said Nafisa.
If adulthood was the steady accumulation of survival skills – an awareness of your own strength and limitations – as long as I knew it would be female age, so it seemed to be about developing a sixth sense that warned you if You were in a certain kind of danger from a man. But the news we read every day about women who were kidnapped, burned, raped, killed seemed to be full of women whose sixth sense had let them down.
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A SlutWalk in Kolkata in 2012.
The comment that triggered the first SlutWalk and led to gatherings in 200 cities and 40 countries did not seem particularly surprising to me. A police officer in Toronto said to a group of students, "I was told not to say that. However, women should avoid dressing like sluts so as not to be victims. ”It was so that ministers, judges, police officers, holy men and celebrities repeated themselves all over the world.
But when the protests went viral, we zealously dissected the SlutWalks via Facebook posts and IRL in quiet, excited tones with other women. When Indian women held their own version of the SlutWalk – the Besharmi Morcha or the March of Shamelessness – we cheered them on. But privately I wondered if the whole project of getting a derogatory word back was counterintuitive. Did we really have to normalize the word "bitch" or the behavior associated with it when there was so much at stake – especially in a country where women fought for fundamental rights?
And then there was the question of inclusivity, asked in the open letter from black women to SlutWalk organizers: Who can afford to win back the word "bitch"? Who are the women, whose bodies have always been considered sexualized and without influence by the patriarchy, and have the marches had room for sex workers? Trans women? Dalit women? Was the SlutWalks about provocation or language? Were they only for the rights of privileged white women? Can we ever change the power gap that routinely accuses women of causing sexual assault by walking down a street?
In 2012, the conversation in India became dark and urgent when the gang raped and murdered a young woman in New Delhi, causing tens of thousands of women to march on the streets. Our fear had raised a little anger overnight – against the culture of shame, against the constant surveillance of our bodies, our clothes, our words and our movements. We wanted more than just the right to security, we wanted the right to roam the streets and hang out in public, take risks and have fun like every man, without fear of attack. We demanded justice; we also asked for joy. And for a moment something really seemed to change.
The next year the world changed so much that I could no longer recognize it. I was sexually assaulted, not by a stranger on a dark corner of the street, but by a person I have known and trusted for many years. I testified against him in court and felt like I was on fire all my life. I lost my job, moved to the cities, moved back in with my mother. Dozens of people and career opportunities disappeared from my life. (The accused denies any wrongdoing.)
From the depths of my nightmare, SlutWalk was a spectacle of sexual certainty despite its problems. It felt like a world full of colors and the hope that I would never live again. In Spain, South Africa, India and Pakistan, people of different sexes still gathered, drumming on the streets in school uniforms, office clothes, lace and leather, nun habits, fishnet stockings and sparkling jeans skin, dancing, holding babies and signs and stories of rape , Assault, trauma, songs and jokes tell.
In the meantime, I was called a slut all the time, by people close to the man who abused me, lawyers, others who had never met me but were convinced that I had lied – of strangers on the Internet. I became less interested in recovering words and breaking them down. I was tired and suicidal and wanted to focus on being something other than what happened to me and my body. The SlutWalks have been described as the most successful feminist action of the past two decades. What would that do?
It wasn't until 2017, when women began to speak publicly and loudly about Harvey Weinstein and the things they said he had done that the fog of recent years began to clear: For some of us, the SlutWalks
For women, especially women who were in our twenties or younger at the beginning of this decade, our only reference points for the anger of women were photographs of the anti-rape movements of the 1960s and 1970s or as " “Take Back the Night” called marches – women occupy the city streets at a time when decent women should be safe at home. Some of us knew about feminist theory, the first wave, and the second and third, and even more of us knew that our rights, wherever we were, were precarious. Many of us now had opportunities our grandmothers could only dream of, but we marched for the same old shit. Our bodies were still our first battlefields.
The next billion people – including women – who learn about the power of collective action on the Internet come from countries such as India, China, South Africa, Brazil and the Middle East. These women grew up in a world where public spaces are perilous and private spaces are often viewed with shame. As a young girl in Pakistan learns a new language of sexual freedom and identity online, she also learns to find her way in the murky waters of digital abuse, for which a US legislature is punished. There are the warning stories of trolling, doxing, targeted rape threats, familiar photos that can all morph onto naked bodies on a random porn site. But also the opportunities to build solidarity, to join protests across geographic borders, to give more women than ever the opportunity to have a say and listen. The measure of successful feminist action, as I've learned in this decade, has never been just changing laws, governments, or workplace policies. Anger clears up because it changes us, the people who participate, by giving us perspectives: we see ourselves as part of a collective, see through patterns of abuse, see how we experience the life and stories of others.
In this decade, the anger of women has come to the fore – it is the subject of books, films and television shows. Beyoncé feels the same way as Greta Thunberg – a 16-year-old climate activist who was recently asked by the President of the United States to try to cope with anger.
But at workplaces, in courtrooms, at universities, women are expected to articulate this anger on red carpets and in the election campaign as bloodlessly as possible in order to appear rational, personable, selectable and credible.
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Students protest in Mumbai on December 3, 2019.
Carefully contained anger plays a role in history. Over the years, we have seen Anita Hill testify against Clarence Thomas to a purely male, purely white jury who rejected her complaint about harassment at work. We read the letter Chanel Miller read to Brock Turner – a man who sexually assaulted her but was only in prison for three months. We saw Christine Blasey Ford's understated terror when she was forced to face the man she said had sexually assaulted her. We listened to Nadia Murad as she described every hint of dignity she could use to counter ethnic cleansing, genocide, and rape of Yazidis – and then again when Yazidi women were forced into their rapists on the news It is significant that the backlash against the #MeToo movement, in the form of defamation, defamation and aggressive defenders, has tried to drag women back into the courtroom, a place where they are treated as if they could not be credible witnesses of theirs own truths.
But the anger of women is still unbroken: it thwarts all attempts to contain them, shakes them, confuses them and provokes them. And its irregularity is productive. What else can explain the fact that women are still gathering and marching together around the world? That one day after Donald Trump's confirmation – a man boasting of sexual assault on women on tape – that the President of the United States was holding the biggest protest in American history? This year, women in 250 Spanish cities and towns declared a feminist emergency after years of rape, domestic violence and homicide, despite being referred to as "psychopathic feminists". Widespread harassment triggered #NiUnaMenos (no less a woman, no more deaths) – Mass strikes in 2015 that spread to Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay and El Salvador, and most recently in Chile, where a street protest turned feminist anthem played in Istanbul and Latin America this year. In South Korea, over 40,000 women in dressing rooms protested an epidemic of spy cameras and triggered the largest women's strike in the country's history. And in India, women have teamed up to form a 629-kilometer human wall against centuries-old patriarchy that illegally restricts access to a Hindu temple. When you feel tired, inhale, exhale, drink some water and take a break. But remember, this form of self-sufficiency is a luxury for 785 million people on this planet who do not have access to clean water. Hours of searching for water locks women around the world in a cycle of poverty and abuse. In China, polluted air is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. A deep breath can be dangerous in India, Pakistan, Sydney and California.
Meanwhile, what we all need more time is marching on and we have to. ●